UKEdMag: Every School needs a School Library by @ElizabetHutch

Full Title: Every School needs a School Library with a School Librarian – By Elizabeth Hutchinson

I love school libraries! Well you would, I hear you say, you’re a librarian. My love of school libraries is not about being able to work in a room in a school with a lot of books, or my ability to sit and read books all day (I wish) or even being able to play with the bleepy scanny thing (that is one of the many names for the book issue scanner). Nor is it my love for school libraries based on sorting out photocopier jams, or peeling the plastic from yet another laminator jam, or being called the library lady, shelf sorter or any other name that teachers or students can think of when what they are looking for is the librarian. Joking aside my love of school libraries is their ability to support and create literate, independent learners and this is why teachers should love them too.

This article originially appeared in Issue 52 of the UKEdMagazine – Click here to freely view

We are living in strange times where it is normal to hear about another school library closing due to lack of use (we have the internet so why do we need books?), librarians removed due to lack of support (what does a school librarian do anyway?) and all in the name of saving budgets. I would understand this if every school across the country felt the same but this is not the case. Some schools are increasing their library budgets for stock, spend money on refurbishing their libraries and employing not only library assistants to organise the day to day running of the library but also a professional librarian to work alongside teachers. The difference between these two scenarios, as far as I can see it, is the lack of understanding about how a well stocked school library with a professional librarian can impact student attainment and support teaching and learning, so how has this happened?

I imagine that if you are a teacher born in the 1990’s you will have gone through school at the time my own children did, when the internet became commonplace in school. Teachers at the time seemed to stop encouraging the use of the school library as much. My children were repeatedly being told to come home and click to find the answers to their homework and I am sure you were too. There seemed to be very little need to use the school library at all, especially if you were a parent who had enough books at home for your child to read and were lucky enough to have a set of encyclopedias. I can hear my children moan now as I made them look in the encyclopedia before I would help them find what they needed online. My children were lucky, although they didn’t think so at the time, but what if you didn’t have that support at home? There was no conversations about evaluating the information found or giving credit at school and this skill has slowly been lost over time.

Fast forward to these children now becoming teachers. In teacher training there is very little said about school libraries if anything at all (I know this because two of my sons are now teachers and neither heard anything about school libraries as part of their courses). Most of the research done at university level is online and then teachers are expected to somehow know and understand the role of the school library and the librarian. Ask any teacher if they think a school library is important the answer would be yes but ask them how they use it to support teaching and learning, the response would be different I am sure. This is a worrying problem because if teachers don’t really understand how the school library can make a difference to themselves or their students, the gap between the schools that do have and those that don’t will increase.

Why do schools need school libraries with professional librarians in them?

With literacy levels currently at a worrying level we know that children who are surrounded by books and people who read, read more, and the more children read the better they do at school. If children are not getting the example from home they should be seeing teachers engaging and talking about reading. A well stocked library with a professional librarian is known to increase literacy levels in children (National Literacy Trust, 2018).

Apart from improved literacy what else can you get from a well stocked library? Many teachers link the school library to English, I agree it is an easy connection to make but why should the English department get access to lots of resources when other departments are struggling for budgets? Every department in a school should be working with and benefiting from the school library. A library budget is not for the library it is for the whole school. Do you as a teacher know what resources are available from the library for your subject? If not the next time you pass the library go in and ask. Most school librarians are desperate to work with all departments but struggle to find out what teachers need because you are always busy and who has time to answer emails? Give them a few minutes of your time and you many find that you have access to more than you thought.

Is it all about resources?

No! School librarians are information specialists so you have access to someone who can co-teach information and digital literacy within your classroom. Is the thought of trying to teach about fake new/misinformation worrying? Would you like to use Hangout, Padlet or Flipgrid to have an international collaborative lesson but don’t have the time or know where to start? Should your students be using online resources but you are not sure, what is available or how to guide them to finding what they need? Do you need to teach about referencing and plagiarism and although you can teach it you would like to try something new. The school librarian can do all of this and so much more!

What can teachers do about this?

If you have a school library with someone working in there it is about building relationships. Go and have a conversation with them. Find out what they can do for you and your students. As a librarian working alone in a school it can be almost impossible to talk to every teacher to explain how they can support so I would like to encourage teachers to be proactive. If you don’t ask you don’t get.

If you are a teacher who has no-one working in your library start asking the questions. Do you have a local Schools’ Library Service that can fill that gap if the school can’t currently afford to employ someone? Is there a budget for your school library and how is it being spent? A room full of books does not make a library unless schools are encouraging its use and keeping it up to date. Teaching was never meant to be a do it yourself job and the school librarian is there to support you and your students so next time don’t walk past, walk in and say hello.

Elizabeth @Elizabethutch is Head of Schools’ Library Service in Guernsey, a Chartered librarian and Fellow of CILIP. She came runner up in the 2016 LILAC Information Literacy Award, is an international presenter and published author.

We have a small favour to ask. More people are accessing UKEdChat articles, resources, videos, magazines and podcasts than ever. Unlike many organisations, we haven’t put up a paywall – we want to keep our content open for all. So you can see why we need to ask for your help. Maintaining and improving our content takes a lot of time, money and hard work. But we do it because we believe our open educational platforms matter – we hope it matters to you too.

You can support us by making a small monthly payment to us via Patreon, by clicking the image below, or by making a one-off payment from the choices below. We do not retain any of your personal payment or billing information.

Donate £2

A generous one-off donation supporting the work of UKEdChat, UKEdMagazine and Conference

Donate £5

A fantastic one-off donation supporting the work of UKEdChat, UKEdMagazine and Conference

Donate £10

An amazing one-off donation supporting the work of UKEdChat, UKEdMagazine and Conference



You need to or Register to bookmark/favorite this content.

About UKEdChat Editorial 3195 Articles
The Editorial Account of UKEdChat, managed by editor-in-chief Colin Hill, with support from Martin Burrett from the UKEd Magazine. Pedagogy, Resources, Community.


  1. This was a really interesting piece , Elizabeth. I’m an “older” teacher; when I went to school – it was a red-brick comp – the library was a popular refuge for the bookish and vulnerable. In the school I teach at today, the books are rarely used and it’s really just become another work space.

    I wonder if it might help to see school libraries and librarians in a different way. Perhaps they could become a place where important, treasured books are curated and featured? I always loved quirky little bookshops where books are displayed and bookshop workers write little cards about why they’ve loved the books so much. That kind of things. And people could donate important, even valuable books that they had once treasured- fiction and non-fiction on a range of subjects.

    School libraries can’t begin to contain the range and depth of materials that students need and expect these days. That’s what the internet is for.

    The approach or mindset I’ve crudely outlined I just might help people fall in love with books again.

    Thanks for writing this.


    • Thanks for your comment Craig!

      You make a really interesting observation, but whilst I too love old books and believe that students need to be encouraged to read for pleasure, the school library of today should be offering so much more.

      A well run and staffed school library sees their school librarian beyond the keeper of books but someone who is an expert in information and provides the expertise needed to use online resources and explore the internet safely and critically. Providing academic online resources linked to curriculum topics, ebooks as well as internet access whilst also supporting reading for pleasure and learning.

      School libraries are essential in helping today’s students navigate this online world critically and effectively. Spotting Fake News and misinformation with critical literacy skills and are needed now more than ever taught in collaboration with teachers and through the curriculum.

      Whilst I also love books, and love your idea, I think that students of today want more… school libraries need space for new and modern fiction and a space for online learning. It is a fine balance of space and need and such a difficult path to tread but an important one…

      I write a lot about school libraries on my blog that you might be interested in…

      Thanks again for your comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.